Example of an independent Judiciary! A Proud Moment in the History of World Judiciary!

Dr.Valson Thampu

 http://almayasabdam.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/James-Kottor.jpgUnder the title: “A thought for the evening” my friend Valson Thampu sent me the following and I readily share it with all my friends like dutiful persons in a relay race.  

What he does in this piece is an unforgettable comparison between the judiciary in UK and in India. UK’s PM, Boris Johnson  suspended the British Parliament for five weeks, following his fancies and selfish interests. The British Apex Court set an inspiring example, for courts across the world by striking it down without fear or favour. 

In  India judges as a whole are derisively called “caged birds” of the political rulers. Judges themselves complain giving names and numbers of corrupt judges. Often they act to please the ruling party, thinking the  authority they posses is a charity from the Government which is an insult to the independence of the Judiciary. It is symbolized by the image of Dame Justice, blindfolded.

Birth Control Encyclical of Pope Paul VI

“Verba movent, exempla trahunt!” (Words move, examples draw.) Rev. Valson clinches his arguments with his own lived experiences in an aside. This scribe has many such examples to tell in a similar aside. 

Birth control encyclical ‘Humanae Vitae’ of Pope Paul VI in the 1960s was a bomb shell in the Catholic moral world when I took charge of the New Leader of Madras. Cardindal Valarian Gracias, the first Indian Cardinal who rode India like a Colossus like Nehru himself could not understand it as he was only a Doctor in Canon law, not in Theology, he excused himself at the national all India Seminar, Bangalore. But he asked all to support it. 

Theologically illiterate

Yet he called Laity “Theologically illiterate”. So I wrote an editorial, in NL: “Like the Pastor (theologically illiterate), so the flock”, of course, without mentioning the name of the Cardinal, as I was a small fry and great admirer of him. But it hit him hard and also my own Bishop who was in Kunnur having a holiday, which, I never took for lack of personnel for NL. My bishop shouted at me from the Hill top, as there was an implied directive to Catholic papers not to criticize the Encyclical. 

Since NL was receiving a flood of critical letters I had to publish them to do justice to Journalistic ethics. But I always added one line of sharp comment to deflect or blunt the edge of the critique which  pleased the Cardinal and made me his “blue eyed boy”. He even advised his editor Auguiar of Examiner to take a que from NL editor. But after my editorial against the Cardinal, quick came his reply rubbishing my editorial and asking me to publish it without an editorial note which put me in a fix. 

Succumb to Pressure?

I sent many reply-cards to readers to find if there was anything wrong in the editorial; they all supported me. Still not satisfied, I ran on my scooter to Loyola College to consult the Great Jerome DeSouza sj, who was a member of the Constitutent assembly. When I showed him Cardinal’s letter and my plight to crucify Truth, he just said: “James, Cardinal Gracious is a towering figure in India; just do what he says and forget everything elase, which made me lose all my great opinion about Jesuits because defending justice and Truth was professional ethics for me, and would rather die than succumb to pressure. “The whole truth, in all charity” was the motto I chose for my weekly. 

Returning to Mylapore Bishop’s  house where I was staying and working even without an editorial office, I simply knelt down, cried and begged the Lord to give me light to do what is right. Then got up  and wrote the reply to the Cardinal, politely and submissively pointing out errors in his letter which cannot be published without an editorial note. 

One option for Cardinal

One option was for the Cardinal to reword some of his sentences which I suggested. Then I concluded with the worlds still clear in my memory: “God has given me a little light, I am not afraid to follow it, come what may!” and was ready to quit if needed or kicked out. But fast came the reply from the Cardinal allaying all my fears, “You may change, but no editorial note!” which helped me to give out a breath of relief. 

Of course I continued to be  his”Blue eyed boy”, but deserving more respect than for a boy. So was I to Cardinal Piccacy of Kolkotta who had only  praise for the High stadandrd of Catholic Journalism in NL for which he used to send gift subscriptions from Kolkotta and also to Cardinal  Parecattil who looking at me at the Seminar said “You are too young to be editor of NL.” Which I answered with a simile but knew from his driver in Thammanam, that he used cut clippings of my writings for the Cardinal as I was a great supporter of his Indianisation programme of the Liturgy. 

Own Bishop just tolerating!

My own Archbishop, dear Aarulappa, holy, hardworking, pious, prayerful but conservative on Encyclical, was tolerating me inspite of heartaches letters oppositng Enclyclical was giving him. So I wrote an editorial: Every office in the Church should be only for three years as the most honest man Jesus could not survive more than 3 years of public life. I was thinking of myself and had sent my resignation after 3 years which he  refsed saying: ”My scolding shouldn’t lead you to that, Am I not your Fatherly figure?” 

But none of the fightings created any ill will to defend mysef, even when the NL was given to Propagation of Fath director, I gladly handed it over. Later I visited the Archbishop with Manager Chathaparambil of Vaideekamitram, whose “In cognito editor” I was and  again with my son Santhosh. I had then told him I had given my children all non-christian names, Santi, Sobha, Suba and Santhosh, so that there may be some non-Christians in Heaven.  But he retorted smiling: Samthosh is a Chrisan name: Felix.  Many more similar fascinating anecdotes to narrate, but too long for an aside. 

Most happy days!

This ‘kno-nothing’  has many good bishops and priests as friends, and I consider my ten years in the Poonamalle seminary, among an over  hundred international community of students as the most happy and productive days in life. james kottoor, editor, CCV.

Please read below Valson Thampu on Judiciary watched, with much admiration, the UK Supreme Court overturning Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend the British Parliament for five weeks.  

As the lady Judge, the Chief of the Court, read out the verdict, I was struck by its clarity and pristine power. (This made a few feel aggrieved that the court resorted to an over-kill, which is highly disappointing.) The truth is that the British Apex Court set an inspiring example, for courts across the world, of the authority and independence of the judiciary.  

We hear, in our country, judges expressing the concern that the independence of the judiciary is being eroded. After watching the way British SC exercised its independence free from the need to look over its shoulders in fear of what is coming in the wake of the pronouncement, I felt all the more convinced that it is the bounden duty of the honourable judges to be vigilant and vigorous sentinels of judiciary’s independence. Failing to be so is inexcusable.  

Expressions of concern, by judges themselves, that the independence of the judiciary is being eroded are a disservice to the judiciary itself. They are counterproductive because an impression is created thereby that such independence is somebody else’s charity. It is not! 

The worst moment for the Supreme Court of India, in my opinion, was created by a good and well-meaning judge, the then Chief Justice of India, Justice Thakur. He broke down and wept publicly while referring to the State-induced disabilities of the Apex Court. It shocked me. I’s sure it has shocked you too. The judge’s public display of maudlin helplessness in relation to the health and wholeness of the highest court in the land is terrible bad news for the common man. How can a court that is so very helpless to ensure justice to itself help citizens, especially those among us if we are being crushed under the iron heels of the mighty and the merciless?  

One thing at least should be clear to all, especially to judges. Authority is not donated as charity by someone else. It has to be something residing in oneself. And it becomes real only to the extent of being believed in and exercised with fearless impartiality and rational decisiveness on behalf of justice for all. To do that, judges need to believe firmly that justice is a higher power than the might of men and women who constitute the muscle of the State. The majesty of justice -not of law- cannot be matched by ruler in the world. Such a conviction should be deemed the essential eligibility requirement of a judge from the top-most court to the lowest.  

A judge who is mesmerized or feels overawed by the extraneous credentials of the parties before him, will necessarily be on the side of the mighty and the belligerent. His court will function on the old principle: Might is right. Judges all over the world need to reckon, before occupying the august seat, that there could arise situations in which one may have to deliver justice at extreme peril to oneself. [That too should be deemed as subsumed in the expression, “without fear and favour”.]  

As regards the rational and historical basis for the need to zealously safeguard the independence of the judiciary especially from the executive, consider the following:

The need for law arises because the State would, otherwise, become autocratic and endanger the rights and life of citizens. The only other check against this abuse of State power is the fear of God, which can neither be institutionalized nor invoked in public life. In the secular context, law takes the place of God. The ruler has to be under the authority of law, and needs to be widely perceived to be so. Dictators do all they can do make law subservient to their whims. As Louis XIV, the French King, said- “I am the State,” by which he also meant that he is also the Law of the land.  

Seen against this historical background, one thing is clear:

Judges not only fail the judiciary but also betray citizenry as a whole by allowing themselves to be influenced by authorities/forces other than the authority of law and reason. This truth is symbolized by the image of Dame Justice, blindfolded, weighing the scales of evidence in clinical indifference to extraneous considerations of every kind. Judges who compromise the independence of judiciary modify this image. Then you get a picture of Dame Justice pretending to be blind but, on occasions, furtively ogling at her minions among the supplicants.  

But there is an issue here that citizens need to mind. Judges are individuals nurtured in the society as a whole. They cannot be, hence, wholly uninfluenced by the moral infections that abound in the given society. Those who expect judges to function in exemplary impartiality, guided wholly and implacably by the imperious majesty of justice, need to uphold commitment to justice and truth in the warp and woof of the society. They also need to create a culture of intellectual and moral bravery. Commitment to truth is ineffectual in practice within a matrix of cowardice.  

In the end, the truth remains that a people will get what they deserve. If so, we need to qualify ourselves to receive justice. It is naïve to expect unalloyed justice to be served on a platter to us without our having to merit it one bit. It is this very outlook that degrades justice, which is one’s birthright, into somebody else’s charity.  

Here an aside. During my 9 years-long tenure as principal of St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, a slew of cases was piled on me. Each one of them was fabricated and without any legal merit. The Court was sought to be used as a stick to beat me with. Great ambience-pressure was mounted, via the media, on the Delhi High Court. A day prior to the Court hearing a case against me, all newspapers in Delhi, and several TV channels, would create an atmosphere of hostility towards me, caricaturing me as a tyrant, or a religious bigot, or perversely anti-woman, anti-human rights, anti-sportsmen, and so on.  

Mercifully, the strategy did not work. But as a Delhi judge said in the court, “Judges too read newspapers.” If my adversaries did not believe that judges could be influenced via the media, they would not have invested so heavily in harnessing the might of the media to getting injustice inflicted on me. I am grateful to the judges of the Delhi High Court for resisting its deviousness. But the point holds that a society that makes organized efforts to vitiate the impartiality of judicial processes hurts its own right to obtain justice.  

So, if the British Supreme Court held its own in relation to an issue of extreme political traction, it also means that the British society values truth and justice. Between the courage of the judges and the culture of the people, there is an unseen, but real, connection: a flow of vital energy. 

That is why Gandhiji prayed, “Sab ko sanmathi de bhagwan”.(God,  grant right insight to give good judgment to all)

Published: Sept.28/1919


 Swami Agnivesh to Valson,

https://www.google.com/s2/u/0/photos/public/AIbEiAIAAABDCInBlKaMnMjtaiILdmNhcmRfcGhvdG8qKDgwYzk4ZjA0NDRiYzUxZTRmYjZiODI2ZjZhODVkZWI2YWNlZDIxYTUwAUv9iL8sGqr5NBQWU6eRyL0sAwbn?sz=40Beautiful piece on  integrity  and unalloyed justice. Let our S C and HC judges read it and be inspired by the British SC. How I wish our CJI does not become a caged parrot.


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